March Research Picks

Sending the right message

WhatsApp is cross-platform messaging software commonly used on mobile phones to allow users to contact each other in a quick and simple manner without the need for the complexities of email but avoiding the lack of privacy associated with status updates on social media. Now, Besma Allagui of Rabdan Academy, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, has tested the potential in higher education of this widely used application, or app, with undergraduate students. Allagui explains that WhatsApp was integrated into the educational program to help students develop their English as a foreign language (EFL) skills. She reports that the use of WhatsApp helped most of the students to improve their spelling and vocabulary through its inbuilt spellchecker and the app motivated the students to write more. Of course, the specific app being used may not be critical to student development, rather, any collaborative tool that engages them and gives them an incentive to practice their EFL skills could be of benefit.

Allagui, B. (2014) ‘Writing through WhatsApp: an evaluation of students writing performance’, Int. J. Mobile Learning and Organisation, Vol. 8, Nos. 3/4, pp.216–231.

Assessing ovarian cancer risk

While ovarian cancer is only the ninth most common form of cancer in females, it is the most lethal gynecological malignancy. Up to one case in ten is thought to be due to inherited, or genetic, risk, but hormone replacement therapy (HRT), reproductive factors such as age at menopause and infertility also contribute to an increased risk of the disease. Conversely, pregnancy, tubal ligation and hysterectomy reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. Researchers at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, USA, have analyzed data on data 5561 women obtained from the US Nationwide Inpatient Sample (NIS) to tease apart the risk factors and co-morbidities, such as depression, hypertension, hypothyroidism, among these women. Ovarian cancer most commonly occurs in the age range 51 to 70 years. While the disease is less common among Native Americans and African-Americans than it is in Caucasians, it is more often fatal in the former ethnic groups. Intriguingly, there is a greater incidence the higher the median household income, the team found.

Patel, B. and Mital, D.P. (2015) ‘Analysis of ovarian cancer and associated risk factors’, Int. J. Medical Engineering and Informatics, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp.175–189.

Cash from the crowd

Crowdfunding is big business – establish a social media presence and ask your “fans” to put their money where their “likes” is and a fledgling business can glean funds to kick start development and manufacture of a novel or niche product, fund a book, a movie, a computer game, a music album or almost any other commodity or service. US researchers have used “signaling theory” to investigate crowdfunding, specifically in China, where crowdfunding is very popular and widespread. The team found, based on an analysis of almost 200 projects, that signals such as the frequency of project announcements and calls to arms and the amount of the highest bid have an impact on the success of crowdfunding projects. However, the impact of these signals was greatest in the arts where movies and music projects were likely to be more successful given those positive signals rather than technology products, such as electronic gadgets.

Wu, S., Wang, B. and Li, Y. (2015) ‘How to attract the crowd in crowdfunding?’, Int. J. Entrepreneurship and Small Business, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp.322–334.

Powering up on cow dung and rubber seed cake

A new recipe for obtaining the fuel gas methane from renewable sources requires a titania catalyst, acetic acid (a component of vinegar), rubber seed and cow dung. The ingredients are mixed and heated to just 40 Celsius to obtain a large volume of methane. The approach represents an alternative to the conventional anaerobic biogas production methods used to convert biomass, food waste products, crops and dung into a sustainable energy supply, producing a 32% methane gas product. The titania, a bright white pigment also known as titanium dioxide, is a light-activated catalyst, or photocatalyst, for the process and the generic nature of the demonstration by researchers in India implies that it might be used in similar recipes to cook up methane and other hydrocarbons from different waste materials depending on local supply.

Kennedy, Z.R., Munisamy, P. and Murali, S.R. (2015) ‘Enrichment of biogas production from mixture of rubber seed cake and cow dung using TiO2 catalyst and temperature’, Int. J. Renewable Energy Technology, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp.1–17.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.